Russian Symphony for the End of an Era: Glazunov’s Eighth

Alexander Glazounov(Photo: Wikipedia)
Alexander Glazounov(Photo: Wikipedia)

Russian composer Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) lived through a very tumultuous period of his country’s history and remains a pivotal figure between the 19th and 20th centuries in Russian music. This evening on Symphony @ 7, we have his last completed symphony from 1906.

Glazunov was considered progressive when his First Symphony appeared in 1881 at the age of 16 when he was a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and a reactionary by the end of his life.  He abandoned an uncompleted Ninth Symphony begun in 1910.  His symphonies are Late-Romantic works with rich harmonies, epic and lyrical in feeling and with melody inspired by folk-song.

He became the director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1905, a position he held until 1928. Younger composers, such as his student Dmitri Shostakovich and others, including Sergei Prokofiev were to bring more modern sounds to Russian music, while Glazunov retired to live in Paris the last years of his life.

Glazunov’s Symphony No. 8 in E flat reflects an ill-founded optimism after the revolutionary events 0f 1905, and especially considering what came 12 years later with the Russian Revolution.  Still, it is an engaging and enjoyable work from this fine Late-Romantic composer of this transitional time in Russian history.

You can hear the entire work this evening on Classical 101.  Here’s a sample from Glazunov’s Eighth Symphony: